As I’m about to head out for a conference this week, spring and summer monitoring comes to a close. I’ll begin August 2017 the 9th consecutive year of (mostly) daily monitoring for window casualties at the Noble Research Center on the campus of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA.
It’s been a busy spring.
Beginning Mar 1st, here’s what has turned up at the Noble Research Center.
Indigo Bunting – 5
Painted Bunting – 5
Ruby-throated Hummingbird – 3
Lincoln’s Sparrow – 2
Mourning Dove – 2
Nashville Warbler – 2
Orange-crowned Warbler – 2
Baltimore Oriole – 1
Chipping Sparrow – 1
Eastern Meadowlark – 1
House Wren – 1
Northern Parula – 1
Tennessee Warbler – 1
Yellow-billed Cuckoo – 1
That’s 28 individuals of 14 species, and damn, that is disheartening.
On the plus side, my commitment to checking almost every day has put me in position to save a few birds by getting them safely away from the building and taking them someplace secure to rest and recuperate for a bit. I can’t guarantee that all 6 of these survived the ordeal, but they seemed to be in good shape when I last saw them:
Yesterday’s Chipping Sparrow had me worried: it was flitting about so nervously trapped beneath the south portico that I assumed I’d find it dead this morning, from exhaustion if not from something else. Instead, I was greeted today by 2 Chipping Sparrows stuck in that spot this morning. Both are still moving fine and very active, but they’re going to have to figure out that flying down is their only way out.
As for the identification on these birds, I don’t have much to go on. From up in the rafters, I get only very quick glimpses of oblique angles and undersides. I managed these 2 photos today:
To separate autumn Chipping and Clay-colored sparrows, there are a few things on which to focus. In good light, I often rely simply on the warmer, buffier breast, flanks, and crown of Clay-colored to make the call, though I always prefer a clear view of the light brown rump, as opposed to Chippings’ gray rump. There is a gray rump visible in one of my photos (not one I posted), all but clinching Chipping Sparrow as the proper ID.
The head and facial pattern of Clay-colored is bold and conspicuously absent from these birds. Clay-colored shows a bright white mustache; this is absent on the birds in the photo. Also, the birds in the photo show dark lores. This is consistent with Chipping but not with Clay-colored. Thus, I’m pretty confident that these are Chipping Sparrows.
Well, our first decent flight for spring developed overnight, and here’s how the birds looked on radar a little after 2:00 am:
Those signatures suggested to me that there was a high likelihood that some unfortunate traveler had met its end at the Noble Research Center. I was half-right: I found a Song Sparrow at the North Entrance – continuing the odd examples of birds on the “wrong” side of the building for the prevailing direction of migration. This is the first example of any bird seeming in the slightest distress around the building since last October. In this case, however, I can’t even consider the bird to have been trapped. I found it in the vegetation right next to the windows on the east side of the North Entrance, where it was fluttering around and actively chimp!-ing. I even watched it bump into the window before turning tail and perching in a tree at the seating area. I managed just this shot before the bird took off, up and over the building heading southeast.
So we were close to our first casualty for 2015, but I won’t even count this bird as trapped.
Today I found at least one, and very likely two, new species for the study. In any other study this would be cause for celebration. Not so, here.
First, I encountered a trapped bird at the north main entrance. I could tell immediately that it was an Oporornis – now Geothylpis – warbler, and Mourning is the most likely candidate by far. This bird was sprightly and flew strongly as I attempted to steer it away from the NRC. I was unsuccessful as it perched in the trees near the entrance, but at least from that location the bird would be more likely to detect the barrier that the building presents and less likely to build up sufficient speed to do any lasting damage. I ruled it a “trapped” bird for that reason, and I really hope that it’s gone by tomorrow . . .
I couldn’t get close enough to catch it, but it was perched in rather open spots on the ground and in the trees so I fired off some photos. My examination of the photos led me to believe that this bird was actually a pretty darn rare one this far east: MacGillivray’s Warbler. It looks to me to be a AHY female, judging from the whitish throat and the two, broad eye arcs above and below the eyes. I have shared the photos with our state birds record committee coordinator. Until I hear definitively from him, I’m reserving final ID on the bird. I do think it’s MacGillivrays. What do you think?
eBird records for MacGillivray’s Warbler in the Southern Plains, Aug.–Nov., 2004–2014.
The eBird distribution above illustrates how unusual an occurrence a MacGillivray’s would be this far east. It’s certainly the first one I’ve seen in Oklahoma, and I think the only one I’ve ever seen east of Las Vegas.
Next, I found a dead bird at the south entrance, and this was the penultimate pinnacle of avian evolution, the Northern Waterthrush. It was an AHY bird with fat = 2, and in truly gorgeous shape before meeting its untimely demise. This is the 50th species I’ve found dead at the NRC, and the 186th casualty.
Lots to explain today. First, I’ve got to go all the way back to the Sprague’s Pipit from March of 2010 to find the last casualty near the northernmost entry to the Noble Research Center, i.e., the red dot on the map below:
I think the fact that casualties do show up in these odd places now and then simply highlights all the more how the various shapes presented by the Noble Research Center play a huge role in the pattern of collisions. I have conducted hundreds of surveys since 2010 without a single bird dying at that weird spot on the building, but other locations really do seem to draw them in. More on that in a bit. Here, though, is the unfortunate Clay-colored Sparrow I found at that spot this morning:
It’s not much to see, I know. That’s why I think I overlooked this bird for two days. It was in pretty good shape, but it wasn’t in immaculate shape. The bird was face down on the ground and had some dried mud splashed up on its back. This tells me that the bird likely came in Thursday morning during our overnight storms. Alternatively, it could have gotten wet from the sprinkler system and then subsequently dried. I’m going with the notion that it was a casualty during the storms and that I missed it for two days. Anyway, I left it in place to see how long it lasts.
The other two birds I found this morning were exhausted, but very much alive and apparently uninjured. The first was a beautiful female Painted Bunting trapped in the southwest alcove. She was slow enough for me to catch her and I released her into a tree away from the building where she flew on her own and seemed to perch just fine. She was carrying zero fat, so I’m hoping that she can find an easy meal.
I’m a little more worried about this Gray Catbird at the very-busy-this-week northwest alcove. This bird was active enough that I couldn’t catch it, but it also didn’t fly more than a foot or so off the ground and any farther than about 10 m at a time. I herded it out to beneath a tree where a robin was foraging so maybe it too will find some food quickly. I won’t count either of these birds as casualties – unless I find them again tomorrow. These are the days when I feel the greatest reward for the methodical daily surveys I do. Any day I can help keep a Painted Bunting going a little bit longer on this earth seems like a good day to me.